Jack W. Szostak

The University of Chicago

Primary Section: 21, Biochemistry
Secondary Section: 14, Chemistry
Membership Type:
Member (elected 1998)


Dr. Szostak is a University Professor and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Chicago, and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Dr. Szostak’s early research on telomere structure and function and the role of telomere maintenance in preventing cellular senescence was recognized by the 2006 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. In the 1990s Dr. Szostak and his colleagues developed in vitro selection as a tool for the isolation of functional RNA, DNA and protein molecules from large pools of random sequences. Dr. Szostak’s current research interests are in the laboratory synthesis of self-replicating systems and the origins of life.

Research Interests

I am interested in the origins of biological catalysis, a question closely linked to the origins of life itself. The approach taken by my laboratory has been to devise methods for searching through extremely large numbers of different nucleic acid or protein molecules with random sequences in search of those rare sequences that encode binding or catalytic properties similar to biological macromolecules. Through the use of in vitro selection and directed evolution, we have been able to show that molecules comparable to antibodies and enzymes can be evolved in the laboratory from random initial populations, supporting the idea that life could have evolved through a combination of random chemical events coupled with selection (i.e., evolution). Our efforts in this area have recently led us to explore the relationship between information content and the functional activities of biopolymers.

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